- Hans Baldung Grien (1484/5-1545): Marienbilder in der Reformation
In Hans Baldung Grien (1484/5–1545): Marienbilder in der Reformation, Sibylle Weber am Bach analyzes Baldung' s seven single-panel, half-length Madonna paintings. Though no patrons are known, Weber am Bach interprets these pictures inferentially by positioning them in multiple contexts: the artist' s return to Strasbourg from 1517/18 until his death in 1545, the social class and Humanist interests of his likely patrons, the events of the Reformation in Strasbourg, and the attitudes of Protestant theologians towards the Virgin and her representation. Weber am Bach demonstrates that there was a market for Madonna paintings among educated Protestant patrons in Strasbourg, and that Baldung' s images, with their unusually sensual Virgins and implicit allusions to classical myth, suited the tastes and intellects of Strasbourg' s art patrons.
Baldung was apprenticed in the shop of Albrecht Dü rer (1471–1528), an association that indicates his status. What is known about Baldung' s friends and patrons —for instance, that he circled among the less doctrinal "Epicurean" [End Page 968] Lutherans and intellectuals well-versed in classical antiquity —suggests the audience for his pictures even if specific patrons are unknown. Weber am Bach argues that Baldung' s Madonna images are multivalent, refracting Lutheran theology and humanism, and therefore maintaining the interest of his educated patrons.
Though the iconography of the pictures is not explicitly Lutheran, the demographics of Strasbourg and the tendency of Lutheran viewers to prefer the Madonna to Mariological subjects suggest a Lutheran audience. The paintings also would satisfy the expectations of humanist patrons. For instance, Baldung' s Madonna in the Grape Bower (1541–43), depicting the Virgin holding the sleeping Christ, encompasses multiple moments of Christ' s life. The Virgin lays her hand across her breast, as she does in images of the Annunciation. Her gesture also emphasizes Christ' s humanity, alluding to Christ' s physical sustenance through nursing, and refuting the beliefs of a Protestant group in Strasbourg that denied the humanity of Christ' s double nature. The infant' s sound sleep, despite a putto' s attempt to wake him, evokes Christ' s death. The position of Christ' s body suggests antique representations of sleeping eros, an appealing double entendre for Baldung' s humanist audience.
In the Madonna with a Parrot of 1533, the Virgin yields her neck to the beak of a parrot. She rests her hand on her breast, mimicking a gesture associated with Venus. This implicit comparison suggests to the humanist viewer that the loveliness of Venus is surpassed only by the beauty of the Virgin. Moreover, beholders could infer that Baldung' s skill surpasses even that of Apelles, in that he could depict a woman more beautiful than Venus.
Recent scholarship on the Virgin in Protestant contexts makes Weber am Bach' s study timely. Beth Kreitzer (Reforming Mary: Changing Images of the Virgin Mary in Lutheran Sermons of the Sixteenth Century, 2004) and Bridget Margaret Heal (The Cult of the Virgin Mary in Early Modern Germany: Protestant and Catholic Piety, 1500–1648, 2007), among others, have demonstrated the continued significance of the Virgin in the context of Protestant art and theology. The superb recent work of Linda Hults (The Witch as Muse: Art, Gender, and Power in Early Modern Europe, 2005) is particularly relevant to any analysis of Baldung' s Madonna images. Like Weber am Bach, Hults analyzes the intellectual and humanist interest of Baldung' s patrons, but also demonstrates their ambivalent, if not tortured, fascination with female sexuality. Weber am Bach fluently synthesizes much source material, from theological and literary texts to archival documents, as well as much German secondary scholarship. Inclusion of recent English-language scholarship would only further legitimate her argument.
Placing Baldung' s Madonna images in relation to his paintings and prints of witches and other temptresses would also have strengthened her argument. Hults has shown that Baldung' s witches are simultaneously sexually enticing and threatening. Similar tensions...